CULTURE

The different faces of Patmos

The coastline of this northern Dodecanese island in the Aegean Sea comprises a lacework of coves with pretty pebbled beaches, bracing waters and salt cedars providing welcome shade, while the hinterland is dominated by the Monastery of Aghios Ioannis Theologos (Saint John the Theologian, also known as Saint John of Patmos or John the Apostle), which casts the shadow of the Apocalypse over this mystic island.

The monastery is the first thing that catches your eye when you sail into the port of Patmos, especially at night, as, built on a rock and fortified, it appears to float in the air, full of promise.

Patmos is a holy island, sacred to many, and its spiritual aura is ever-present, from the cave where John is said to have written the Book of Revelation to the cobbled alleyways of the main town, Hora, where monks are often seen walking in silence.

The significance of Patmos to the Christian faith is but one of the island’s identities, however, because this is a cosmopolitan destination that gets very busy at Easter and in the summertime, and is especially popular with Italians. But it is also an island of beautiful rugged landscapes which, from its myriad wild coves to the serene figure of Vassilis, the director of the excellent municipal campsite, reveals a range of different facets.

Other than Hora, a labyrinth of pretty alleys and stunning stately homes, the second-biggest settlement in Patmos is the port. Skala is quite heavily developed, perhaps to the detriment of its traditional character, but it is lively with a buzz that only happy tourists can bring to a place. This is a good location to enjoy an afternoon coffee or a traditional cheese pie from one of several bakeries, stroll along the seafront and take in the view of colorful fishing boats bobbing in the harbor. Later in the evening, sup on traditional mezedes at the Gorgones or Hiliomodi tavernas, followed by a drink at the Koukoumavla cafe-bar.

If you don’t want to drive to Hora, there is a well-signposted path that leads uphill from Skala. The path is shaded and affords wonderful sea views, while if you’re there in late summer, you can snack on the fruit of the wild fig trees. The path ends on the outskirts of Hora, right beside a beautiful stately home. After the longish walk, you can enjoy an iced coffee on Jimmy’s Balcony, a cafe with a broad veranda overlooking the island. A visit to the monastery is an absolute must as it also has a museum that is one of the biggest of religious heirlooms and treasures in Greece. The monastery also boasts beautiful frescoes, as well as a plaque in Ancient Greek dedicated to Artemis and the other ancient gods that are believed to have once resided on the island.

After your tour of the monastery and its museum, head for Hora’s main square for a coffee at Thanasis, an old establishment with very good prices. If you’re after something more substantial, try Pantheon at Hora’s entrance or Vangelis on the main square.

The second must-see on Patmos is the Cave of the Apocalypse, as the cavern in which John is believed to have written the Book of Revelation is known. It is where John is said to have seen the visions sent to him by Jesus, and two small niches in the cave’s wall where he is said to have rested his head and hand. There is a very helpful monk who explains the history of the caves to visitors, though unfortunately for non-natives does so only in Greek.

For relaxation, head to one of Parmos’s many beaches, though you will find more pebbles than sand. The island’s best are probably Agriolivado, Kambos, Vayia and Meloi, the last of which is where the campsite and its very good taverna are located. Kambos has loungers and parasols, but Agriolivado and Vayia have sandy shorelines and plenty of shade thanks to the salt cedars.

Didymes is also quite popular for its small but well-stocked cantina, while Lambis is known for its pretty pebbles. Psili Ammos is Patmos’s most beautiful sandy beach, and while it is quite difficult to reach (by bus and a 30-minute walk or by water taxi), it’s well worth the effort.